Of Socially Productive Places…

In April 2014, the RSA organised a conference in conjunction with British Land that explored Developing Socially Productive Places. The event was primarily focused on planning and development, and the ways in which developers engage, or need to engage, with local communities to ensure that a broad array of considerations, hopes and needs are met. Nevertheless, the leitmotif running through the conference report (available to download at the link above) is of enhancing wellbeing by exploring the ‘relationship between the physical and social aspects of community-building and place-making’. rsa sp places

Socially productive places are neighbourhoods and districts where people are enabled individually and collectively to meet their own needs and achieve their aspirations for issues which matter to them. They require a system of physical assets – homes, streets, open spaces, shops, workplaces and community facilities – which function together in ways that respect and broaden the social and economic networks through which we live, work and play.

The report provides a series of case studies of local and regional initiatives that demonstrate the benefits of forging alliances of different types within communities, which build on existing and nascent networks. In conclusion, it proposes a series of recommendations for how best to develop socially productive places.  Continue reading Of Socially Productive Places…

Whatever Happened to the Big Society?

BigSocietyDiscussing social capital with my colleague Paddy Hoey today, in the context of his recent work with the Communiversity in North Liverpool, I was moved to wonder aloud about the so-called ‘Big Society’. Heralded by the Conservative Party, and specifically David Cameron, in 2010 as a way to help ‘people come together to improve their own lives’, it can now be seen, perhaps, for what it always was: a smokescreen to mask the demands that would be placed on local authorities to make cuts and husband their resources in much more austere ways due to reduced government funding.

The concept was defined on the Conservative Party website as follows:

The Big Society is about putting more power in people’s hands – a massive transfer of power from Whitehall to local communities. We want to see people encouraged and enabled to play a more active role in society. (http://www.conservatives.com/Policy/Where_we_stand/Big_Society.aspx, accessed 22 March 2014)

The aim was reputed to be to encourage a stronger sense of communities taking responsibility for their own lives, by increasing a willingness to volunteer, for example, or to boost ‘charitable giving’. Be that as it may, one of the primary casualties of austerity measures at the local level appears to have been the provision of library services for the community or the subsidy of museums, which have been free to visitors, in the majority of cases, for many years now. Continue reading Whatever Happened to the Big Society?

Making a Difference…

On 26 November 2014, the Institute for Public Policy and Professional Practice (I4P) at Edge Hill University hosted a symposium entitled ‘Breaking Out of the Temples of Culture: Exploring Arts, Health and Wellbeing Initiatives in the Community’. Conceived by I4P visiting fellow Tristi Brownett, Lecturer in Public Health and Health Promotion at Canterbury Christ Church University and inspired by her Masters research into wellbeing, the symposium gathered together practitioners, academics and council representatives from across the UK to showcase and discuss a rich variety of important arts, health and wellbeing initiatives and enterprises in the community. The day was set up perfectly by our two keynote speakers, Nick Ewbank of Nick Ewbank Associates and John McGrath, Artistic Director of the National Theatre Wales.

Nick spoke about his research into evaluating social capital, based on his work on a recent AHRC-funded project exploring coastal regeneration through arts and culture in three Kent towns. John talked about the work the NTW undertake with communities throughout Wales, and most especially the community development work on projects such as the Port Talbot Passion with Michael Sheen in 2011. Between them they touched upon many aspects of the debate about the role of the arts in fostering wellbeing, which the case study speakers then developed in their presentations. Alongside a number of Edge Hill academics, we had speakers from organisations such as Creativity Works, Wise Words Festival, the De La Warr Pavilion, You’re Amazing CIC, Alder Hey Children’s Hospital, Wakefield Council and East Lindsey Council.

Continue reading Making a Difference…